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Above the rest: natural resources and mining: setting the standard for safety in Alaska.


According the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, Alaska is one of the most dangerous places to work. Occupational injuries and illness in all industry sectors of the state exceed those of everywhere else in the country, with the exception of one--natural resources and mining. With mines located in the most remote areas of Alaska, this is no small feat.

Low incident rates can be directly attributed to the safety culture of not just any one company, but to the industry as a whole. "In addition to safety being a corporate value, mine workers in Alaska employ a standard of safety individually," says Deantha Crockett, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association. "They take pride in operating safely and reaching safety milestones within their company, therefore they share these values among their coworkers and achieve safety standards together. Safety practices are one area that--no matter what type of mine is being operated--can and is being shared across many different Alaskan mines and individuals," she adds.

Safety Professionals

Companies across Alaska are answering the call to higher safety standards by employing top professionals in their field. Certified safety professionals and industrial hygienists bring a specialized insight to not only safety planning, but program implantation on the jobsite as well.

"Due to the high standards in the industry set by the State of Alaska and federal agencies, it's necessary to have effective safety programs in place that will mitigate any injuries on the jobsite before they happen," says Chris Tillman, Fairweather site health and safety officer for the Tower Hill Mines Livengood project. "Taking it further and ensuring that the standards set in the company's safety plan are carried out on the jobsite is critical to managing a successful health and safety program."

According to Tillman, a safe and healthy work environment at Tower Hill Mines is a top priority. "Our site-specific safety and health plan provides important tools and training to enable employees to establish and then maintain a safe working environment," he says. Some aspects of the program include training and employee orientation, hazard identification and assessment, site control measures, site-specific task training, occupational safety and health controls as well as emergency response and contingency procedures.

"Tower Hill Mines will continue to evaluate and improve its safety programs. We are committed to providing the proper training and tools for a safe and healthy work environment and require that our employees be committed to that mindset," says Tillman.

Tillman is employed by Fairweather LLC and serves not only as a safety profession at Livengood, he is also an Alaska State Certified EMT-III, providing medical support to the project. Fairweather, which has a long history of supporting the mining industry in Alaska, has a unique approach to serving mining camps, cross utilizing its staff to promote efficiency and cost effectiveness, according to Sherron Perry, founding owner of Fairweather.

The concept allows the safety professionals who interact with employees on a daily basis and set the tone for safety in the field to respond immediately to emergencies and provide care in accordance with their physician directed guidelines. Fairweather medical and safety personnel also function as certified bear guards, site and field inspectors, drug and alcohol program facilitators, weather observers and instructors in everything from first aid and CPR to snowmachine and ATV operations.

"This unified approach provides for an effectiveness that can make the difference between a bad outcome leading to disability and a good outcome resulting in a no-lost time incident. The goal is to reduce incidence of injury, decrease recordable incidents and enhance workforce wellness, safety and productivity," says Perry.

High Level of Care

To provide the high level of care expected in the mining industry, Fairweather employs Alaska licensed physician assistants, paramedics and EMT III's to provide remote onsite medical care. "These professionals can assist health and safety teams with the management of on-the job injuries while fully understanding OSHA/MSHA related aggressive first aid concepts," says Jim Lipinski, Fairweather's health team manager.

Alaska's remote geographic and weather challenges can often result in delayed transport scenarios, demanding an on-site presence of medical care. "Remote camps with both small and large populations may have either a fixed medical facility or an easily transportable clinic set. These medical sets feature a comprehensive, standardized design and are aligned with the level of professional supporting the site," says Lipinski. "All sets are designed to provide routine health care from minor injuries to critical care of a sick or injured employee."

As operator of the Fairweather Deadhorse Medical Clinic located in the Deadhorse Aviation Center, Fairweather is able to provide state-of-the-art medical services for mining, oil and gas companies that operate in the Arctic regions of Alaska. "This clinic is aligned as an air medical evacuation facility, providing care from emergency triage to stabilization of a patient for air ambulance transport," adds Lipinski. The clinic is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year with physician assistants and paramedics.

The medical program at Fairweather is managed by Lipinski, who is a licensed physician assistant with a master's degree in occupational medicine. Lipinski has worked throughout remote Alaska and knows the medical challenges firsthand. "Remote work camps present obstacles for providers and patients who are far away from hospitals and family. It takes a dedicated provider to work at these remote locations and be responsible for the health and wellbeing of a work crew," explains Lipinski.

As someone who is responsible for the recruiting and training of his remote staff, he knows it takes just the right personality and work ethic for someone to be successful in remote environments. "The key to a remote medical program's success is hiring the best people who are able to perform well in nontraditional medical settings. Our professionals integrate with the workforce and make a difference as they ensure that all health and emergency response issues are addressed," adds Lipinski.

It is this kind of commitment from the medical, health and safety professionals serving the industry that will ensure natural resource and mining employees maintain their status as the safest workers in Alaska.

Paula Cottrell is an Alaskan author.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL SECTION: Mining
Comment:Above the rest: natural resources and mining: setting the standard for safety in Alaska.(SPECIAL SECTION: Mining)
Author:Cottrell, Paula
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Nov 1, 2012
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